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Jul 24, 2001 6:32 AM

Al O’Donnell, author of Point Spread Playbook, remembers the conversation well even though it happened more than 10 years ago.

“In the ’80s,” recalled O’Donnell, “the Bears had won and covered something like 10 in a row vs. the Packers. I mentioned it to this fellow and he said, ”˜Oh boy I have to bet the Packers then.’

“I said, ”˜well why is that?’ He said, ”˜well they’re due to win.’ I kind of looked at it the other way that the Bears had the Packers’ number.

“So you can present the same information and reach two different opposite conclusions on it.”

Through his Point Spread Playbook, O’Donnell has been putting out NFL point spread information out the past 23 years.

For years, O’Donnell’s annual publication was the No. 1 bestseller at Gamblers Book Club. Readers appreciated O’Donnell’s simple style of listing various point-spread trends, angles and history.

“I just want to present facts and let people make up their own minds,” O’ Donnell said.

But while Point Spread Playbook still remains a popular choice, other football magazines have supplanted it.

Phil Steele’s Northcoast Sports college and pro annuals have become far and away the top selling publications at Gamblers Book Club, says the store’s general manager, Peter Ruchman.

Steele’s magazines go in depth not only with statistics but also with detailed position writeups on every team.

Ranking after Steele’s magazines are the Blue Ribbon football yearbook and Marc Lawrence’s Playbook.

The football magazine competition has become much more crowded since O’ Donnell went into business in 1978.

There are between 30-40 football magazines at Gamblers Book Club. For the reader, the key is how the material is presented.

Some magazines look slick. But the team writeups are bland and the information obvious.

Blue Ribbon easily puts out the best college basketball yearbook. But Blue Ribbon’s football version isn’t up to those lofty standards ”” at least for the time being.

“Last year was their first year,” Ruchman said of the Blue Ribbon football yearbook. “They’ve improved the book this year.”

One nice thing about Point Spread Playbook is there are no ads for tout services. That’s not the case with many of the other magazines.

In the case of Steele and Lawrence, though, you can overlook their tout service pitches because the information is so good.

That’s certainly not the case with other magazines put out by less reputable touts. The goal of those magazines is to market, not give out good interpretative information.

Fantasy football has carved out a strong niche in the last five years. Now there are around a dozen fantasy football magazines crowding the racks.

Cliff Charpentier started the fantasy football publication trend. And Charpentier still puts out the best fantasy football publication.

“It’s not just a fantasy book, it’s a real good source of information for football,” he said.

So, what’s the best way to do your upcoming football homework with all these choices staring at you?

Simplify. Two magazines are enough for me. The rest is daily Internet reading.

First, even though I’m a serious fantasy football participant, I don’t bother buying or reading any fantasy football publication.

Having written for magazines, I know how ridiculous their deadlines are. These magazines are out on the newsstand weeks before training camp opens. I find the information stale and obvious.

The key to doing well in any fantasy league isn’t drafting players solely based on their statistics from last year. It’s how accurately you can project what they’ll do this season.

I need current, up-dated information. Those magazines don’t provide that.

I will buy a mainstream football preview magazine such as Sporting News or Street & Smith to reacquaint myself with all the teams without overloading my brain.

What’s crucial to me is a credible interpretative writeup of a team’s offensive and defensive lines.

Yes, I know Corey Dillon is an outstanding runner. What I’m interested in is finding out if Richmond Webb can still play left tackle at a high level.

This kind of magazine also give me a reference point, and makes it easy to check things when away from the computer.

I’ll also buy a betting-oriented football magazine such as Steele or Lawrence’s in order to have access to team history; trends, angles and pertinent point spread data.

I find Lawrence’s Playbook easy to read. However, many of his team trends are meaningless and overly complicated such as Marshall being 1-4 against the spread as double-digit favorites vs. opponents off a straight up and against the spread loss.

Nothing fancy for me. Just a couple of good magazines, the Internet and satellite TV, and I’m ready for football.

Bring it on.